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Nat Clin Pract Oncol. 2008 Jul;5(7):393-404. doi: 10.1038/ncponc1132. Epub 2008 Jun 3.

Mechanisms of Disease: the role of stem cells in the biology and treatment of gliomas.

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Department of Neurology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


The study of neural stem cell and progenitor cell biology has improved our understanding of the biology of brain tumors in a developmental context. Recent work has demonstrated that brain tumors may harbor small subpopulations of cells that share characteristics of neural stem cells. There is still an ongoing debate about the specific role of these stem-like cells in cancer initiation, development and progression. Nonetheless, the concept of cancer stem cells has offered a new paradigm to understand tumor biology and resistance to current treatment modalities. Molecular aberrations in these cancer stem cells might be crucial targets for therapeutic intervention, with the hope of achieving more durable clinical responses. Recent studies have demonstrated that endogenous and transplanted neural stem cells and progenitor cells show a marked tropism to brain tumors. Although the mechanisms that govern these processes are poorly understood, the use of neural stem cells and progenitor cells as delivery vehicles for molecules toxic to tumors offers a promising experimental treatment strategy. This Review summarizes recent advances in the basic understanding of neural stem cell and cancer stem cell biology and the progress towards translating these novel concepts into the clinic.

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